How I peddle Yoga to groups of hamstrung cyclists
Physical therapist and yoga teacher Sinead Kennedy tells Fiona McBennett why her fellow cyclists need a good stretch
With the Giro, the Bike to Work scheme, increased environmental awareness and nowadays' focus on health and fitness, more people are taking to two wheels recently and it seems that cycling has never been so popular.
Cycling is perfect for toning up, burning calories and working the heart and lungs, without putting pressure on joints. Celebrities such as Leonardo Di Caprio and Katy Perry are regularly pictured out pedalling and with no previous experience required, just a helmet and a pair of wheels, it's a fun and easy way to get fit.
However, as with any activity, regular cycling can lead to tight muscles which, in turn, can result in injuries. Although yoga is often thought of as simply a way to relax, it is also a great way to increase flexibility and improve core strength and co-ordination; all of which are needed for cycling.
Dublin-based physical therapist and yoga teacher Sinéad Kennedy saw the link between the two and decided to set up a yoga class for cyclists class last year. A keen cyclist herself, Sinéad is a member of the Orwell Wheelers Cycling Club.
It was through cycling with the club and hearing about the injuries and problems the others were experiencing, that she realised they needed to learn how to stretch.
"I realised that I was going to be cycling with a load of hunchbacks in years to come if I didn't help them to stretch their bodies," she laughs. "Everyone knew how much their pedals weighed and about the air pressure in their tyres but none of them knew where their hamstrings were or why they were tight."
When Sinéad initially began her Monday evening class at Raw Condition Gym in Portobello, she was met with some resistance from the other cyclists. "When I first suggested yoga to them they weren't keen at all but when I said it was yoga for cyclists, they were very interested."
Since then, Sinéad's class has been a popular weekly fixture for many from her cycling club, her physical therapy practice and beyond, all of whom credit it as being of huge benefit to them when training for races or for simply improving the ease and comfort of their cycle to and from work.
Enda Reynolds was having problems on his bike before he took up yoga. "I do a lot of endurance sports and regularly take part in multi-day races where I can be on my bike for five days straight," he says. "I was having trouble with my Achilles tendon and suffered from tight hamstrings, so my fiancée suggested I try a yoga class."
Six months of stretching later and Enda notices a big difference. "In the first few classes, I could hardly do any of the poses but now I'm able to do most of them. I'm definitely feeling better because of it and not as stiff all the time."
As well as his busy cycling schedule, Enda has a demanding job in IT and says that while yoga has helped him in terms of cycling, its benefits have spread into his work life too.
"The classes help me to relax, as I have quite a stressful job. I used to think that yoga was just about stretching but it's more than that, I feel good after a class and it encourages me to get out on my bike more."
Siobhán O'Connor also swears by Sinéad's classes. "I'd spent 10 years going to many different yoga classes but had never really found one that I clicked with; they were either too aggressive or too laid back.
"I knew Sinéad as I'm in her cycling club so I decided to try her class last year and I've been coming consistently ever since."
Siobhán credits yoga for helping her relieve tightness in her shoulders. "I spend a lot of time with my shoulders rounded forward from cycling and sitting at my desk in work. I also love knitting which requires me to sit in the same sort of position so that doesn't help either," she says. "Since I've started coming to this class the tension has definitely eased and I do some of the stuff that Sinéad teaches us at home in between cycles."
Watching Sinéad teach her students, it's clear that she is a conscientious and knowledgeable teacher when it comes to understanding what cyclists need.
The class is equally attended by both men and women and as Sinéad leads her students from pose to pose she keeps a close eye on them, quick to help out anyone who struggles.
There are references to cycling scattered throughout the class, as Sinéad compares the spine to a bicycle chain needing movement and encourages the students to tuck their arms in "as if going downhill on a bike" as they come into a pose.
"All levels are welcome to the class," Sinéad says, "you don't have to be an athlete with a fancy bike. My classes focus on educating people about their bodies. I work on those commonly tight areas in cyclists such as the hips, shoulders and hamstrings but people sitting at a desk all day spend a lot of time in the same position as a cyclist and would definitely benefit from the class. I have everyone from soccer players and swimmers to office workers and runners coming to me."
Sinéad is currently training for La Marmotte, a gruelling race which takes place in France in July that includes over 5,000m of vertical climbing covering a distance of just over 170km. She says that her yoga practice has been an essential part of her training routine.
"Oh God yeah, yoga has been such a great help to me. I'm sleeping like a baby because of it and the stretching helps to protect my body against injuries. The training is only going to get more intense as the weeks go by so there'll be plenty more yoga for me," she smiles.
Health & Living